Q&A With Couristan's Ron Couri

Hackensack, NJ, May 21--Ron Couri,the president and chief executive officer of Couristan, spends two weeks of the month traveling the world in search of quality handmade and machine-made rugs. Last month, he was in India. In March, he spent time in China. Getting to these exotic ends of the world is easier now than when the 77-year-old wholesale business was founded. When Couri's father, George, and uncle, Basil Couri, decided to import Persian rugs in 1926, they faced a multicontinental adventure. Living in America meant they had to travel by ship across the Atlantic to England, take another ship to the European continent, ride the Orient Express, and drive through the desert to Persia (now known as Iran). Their journey took 32 days. Despite the evolution of transportation, Couri still runs into hurdles as he stocks Couristan's Dalton, Ga., warehouse with merchandise from around the globe. Most recently, the outbreak of sudden acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, has put a wrinkle in that efficiency. "In China, our employees can't get around," Couri said. "If they're not from a town, they can't get into it. Beijing is closed." Still, floorcoverings continue to roll in from Belgium, India, Spain, Romania, Bulgaria, Pakistan, and Nepal -- among other areas. The 900-employee company has been run by Ron Couri and his brother George (who is chairman) since the late 70s. Revenues last year were "in excess of $100 million," Couri said. Couristan sells moderate to high-end floor coverings. It offers 45 area rug, 23 power-loom, and 23 handmade collections. Its 6-by-9-foot area rugs retail for $200 to $2,000. The residential broadlooms wholesale for $15 to $100 per yard. QUESTION: Who are your clients? ANSWER: We have about 3,000 accounts. A few of our local retailers include Einstein Moomjy, Fortunoff, Kaprelian in Ridgewood, and Starr Floor Covering Co. in Englewood. Through our contract carpeting division, we've done work at the Marriott Teaneck at Glenpointe, the Waldorf Astoria, and Macy's Herald Square in New York. Q. Where is your market, geographically? A: We sell globally, but the U.S. is our biggest market. The strongest areas are the East and West coasts. Q. Has the business changed since it started? A: The residential rug division has changed. In the old days, retailers used to stock rugs in their warehouses. Today we act as the fulfillment center. It's very capital-intensive for stores [to hold stock]. Now, basically, we're a store's warehouse. The business is also more fashion oriented. Q. Is the business competitive? A: On the residential end more than the hospitality end. Q. What makes Couristan unique? A: Most of the players usually go over and buy things off the shelf. They're not big enough to have their own production runs; therefore, they can't Americanize. What sells in Germany isn't necessarily going to sell in the U.S. We're one of the largest importers of floor coverings in America. Q. What are your rugs made of? A: Ninety-nine percent are made of wool; the other 1 percent are made of synthetic materials, polypropylene and nylon. Q. Has the economy affected your business? A: We're holding our own. Some stores have seen a drastic traffic decline. I don't think it's rug-specific, though. Since we have residential and commercial divisions, when one's tough the other offsets it. Q. What's keeping you busy these days? A: Now we're doing a lot of contract business with hotels. At the beginning of 2003, that started picking up. There was a big drop after Sept. 11, and 2002 was tough during the first quarter.

Related Topics:Coverings, Couristan